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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 04, 2009

 
The Story Of Blame

by digby

Think Progress has a post up today about the somewhat loony conspiracy theories coming out of the right wing and they highlight The New York Times articlee from a couple of weeks ago about the noise machine's plans to airbrush history, torture Obama and blame the Democrats for the economic crisis. It sounds ridiculous, of course, but then most of what these people come up with sounds ridiculous. (I would guess that the right wing is far from fully invested in this, and further that this "plan" has as much to do with ratings, membership lists and donation than any serious political plan.)

Having said that, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as the rantings of a bunch of irrelevant losers. I think that if the administration is able to wrangle the congress effectively and begin to reverse the economic slide fairly quickly (and keep the world from imploding) that their support will remain strong and they'll be given credit by the people. But, if the pessimists are correct and this recession gets worse and the pain starts to spread widely then these crazy rantings may be taken more seriously by more people than we might think. Economic hardship can turn things sour in a hurry.

The right wing understands something that progressives just refuse to engage in and that is that most people, particularly the media, understand their world through stories. And so they consciously craft plots and narratives to explain events that favor their worldview. Right now, after eight years of Bush and a decisive election repudiating Republican rule, it seems impossible to believe that their story makes any sense to people. But they will tell it anyway, full in the knowledge that within a few months any talk of Bush will be as stale as Rickrolling and the focus will be completely on Obama. And they will already be well on their way to setting forth an alternate reality that slides neatly into familiar grooves worn smooth by decades of right wing propaganda.

I do not believe it is inevitable that they will persuade enough people to buy their narrative that they can turn around their political fortunes. The failures of conservatism are manifest and huge. But beyond some vague idea that politics has been too partisan I don't believe people have heard a story that really explains it yet and until we see real progress manifested in real life by an Obama administration, I'm not sure that people have anything other than some vague hope that the other guys should be given a chance. It certainly doesn't mean that a new narrative of progress and competence won't naturally just emerge, but it's going to take time. And during that time, the right will be spinning their epic tale of Democratic irresponsibility, fecklessness and elitism, among other things, while Democrats refuse to publicly engage.

It seems to me that progressives have to devote at some energy to battling the right on this, even if the party and the administration don't want us to. Pretending they are losers who don't matter is just plain foolish. They are good at this sort of thing and if the economy has not hit bottom, as some very smart people with excellent track records believe, then the pain could start to get much more acute for a large number of people. And they will be looking for ways to understand what has happened to them. It would be a shame if the conservative freakshow were the only ones with a ready narrative on offer.

Nobody has yet repudiated conservatism or explained why the country is in this mess, because Democrats decided that they didn't want to play the blame game. And if we're lucky, it won't matter because the country will turn around quickly, the Democrats will get the credit and the modern conservative movement will slink off into obscurity having been rendered irrelevant for all time by the the irrefutable progressive success of Barack Obama and the Democratic congress. But I think it's a mistake to assume that's how it will go.

Along with good policy, you need rhetoric and narratives that give people something to believe in --- and someone to blame. History has shown that it's never smart to let demagogues go unanswered under the assumption that people will see through them, particularly in a time of great stress and dislocation.


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